“Listen, O heavens, and hear, O earth;
For the Lord speaks,
‘Sons I have reared and brought up
But they have revolted against Me.
An ox knows it owner,
And a donkey its master’s manger…
My people do not understand.’
Alas, sinful nation,
People weighed down with iniquity,
Offspring of evildoers,
Sons who act corruptly!
They have abandoned the Lord,
They have despised the Holy One of Israel,
They have turned away from Him.”
These are the words of God’s man, written over 2700 years ago.
They seem so similar to our situation today.
And an offer has been made to the disobedient:
“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of you deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow
“Come now, and let us reason together,”
Says the Lord,
Though your sins are as scarlet,
They will be white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They will be like wool.
The offer made to man 2700 years ago still stands. God’s redemptive work has been completed in our Savior’s great deed. All that is left is to trust and obey.
There is an old narrative that reminds me of the Church’s condition in our day.
Pull up a chair and see if my comparison is not true.
A little background before the report:
The Assyrian Empire was a ruthless and expansive bunch. It had been growing for 150 years before the days of Isaiah, terrifying any nation in its way. Israel had been paying tribute to Assyria at least 100 years when the words above were penned. It was a clear case of extortion. “You give us enough money and we’ll sort of leave you alone.”
When Isaiah was a young man, Assyria took the people of northern Israel into captivity. Eventually, those left in the south (Judah) had been wiped clean of anything worthwhile and now they were to become slaves.
Sennacherib’s Assyrian army was at the gates of Jerusalem, having destroyed at least 46 walled cities on its way there.
We know that Samaria fell in 721 B.C.
It is estimated that the following events took place around 700 B.C. (Some have pegged it to 701.)
The Assyrian army had already taken 200,000 captives in what was left of the nation. Only the remnant was left.
Christians find themselves in a similar situation today.
The following narrative occurs in the 36th chapter of Isaiah:
Sennacherib sent a messenger to speak to God’s people who were behind the walls of Jerusalem.
Here, I must make a quick note. I am not making an interpretation. The story and interpretation are easy in this case. I am only making the claim that similarities exist between the problems that faced God’s people almost three millennium ago and the ones they face today.
Sennacherib was as wily fellow; a “Worldly Wiseman.”
He sent a man who could speak to God’s people using their own language.
The man who spoke their language made sure that many heard his message. Those on the walls of Jerusalem heard it clearly.
“What is this confidence you have? On whom do you rely?”
Here is the representative of the evil one. He dares to question those who believe in the Lord.
The man who speaks their language makes a “deal” with God’s people.
“Come and make a bargain with my master, the king of Assyria, and I will give you two thousand horses, if you are able on your part to set riders on them.”
He wants to “give” them something and mocks them in the same sentence.
How many within and without mock God’s people today?
The evil man’s spokesman continues:
“Thus says the King, ‘Do not let Hezekiah (God’s man) deceive you, for he will not be able to deliver you; nor let Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord.’”
He tells them he will help them, mocks them, and tells them not to trust in the Lord.
Then comes more poison posed as promise:
“Do not listen to Hezekiah make you trust in the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord will surely deliver us, this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’ ”
“Do not listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria, ‘Make peace with me and come out to me, and eat each of his vine and each of his fig tree and drink each of the waters of his own cistern,
‘until I come and take you away to a land like your own land, a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards.’”
This is a veiled attempt at making slavery a sweet condition.
Many promises of sweetness are presented to today’s Christian. They are promises that result in bondage.
“Your salvation is based on your performance.”
“You are a good person. Your goodness is the means for the attainment of your salvation.”
“Go deep into yourself. It is there that you will find the power to change your destiny.”
“You deserve to be blessed physically, personally, financially, and spiritually.”
“There is something wrong with you if you are not blessed physically, personally, financially, and spiritually.”
“It is God’s will for you to be blessed physically, personally, financially, and spiritually.”
“Give more to God and you will be blessed physically, personally, financially, and spiritually.”
“Sit in a certain position, repeat a word from the Bible over and over, and you will enter into God’s presence; into another state of consciousness.”
“You cannot get forgiveness by going directly to God. You must have a spiritual guide.”
“Your Spiritual Formation is essential to salvation.”
“The story of Jonah, like so many others, is only metaphoric.”
The representative of the evil one speaks loudly enough for many to hear. He attempts to use fear as a tool. He speaks using their own terminology.
He tells them they are doomed to eat their own dung and drink their own urine if they rely on the Lord.
“Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their land from my hand that the Lord would deliver Jerusalem from my hand?”
Then the messenger left. It is a common tactic among the devious ones. Strike fear, wait, and let the other panic. Then return and continue the battle with a weaker foe.
When he left, the people of Jerusalem knew he would be back.
They were not disappointed.
The messenger returned and continued the volley.
Though the people of Jerusalem didn’t know how it would end, they chose to trust in the Lord. They chose the Lord over all of the false promises that resulted in slavery.
It would be better to die than to be a slave to a false god.
The rest of the account is found in the 37th chapter of Isaiah.
As it was then, it is now.
The people of God are besieged on every side.
It has always been so.
John H. Sammis gave up his life as a businessman and part-time YMCA worker to study for the ministry and become a pastor. He was sent.
It would be a mistake for a businessman to become a pastor if he is not sent. Most businessmen should not become Church pastors. Christian businessmen have their own ministries. God has friends in many places.
Mr. Sammis wrote the following words:
When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word,
What a glory He sheds on our way!
While we do His good will, He abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey.
But we never can prove the delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay;
For the favor He shows, for the joy He bestows,
Are for them who will trust and obey.
Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.
Isaiah and Hezekiah’s experience is relevant in 2011.
The offer, mentioned above and made 2700 years ago, to “Come now, and let us reason together,” still stands.
Anyone who says otherwise is a Worldly Wiseman.
*The photo can be seen here.